Managing A Struggling Side
I would imagine I speak for all U's fans when I say that we desperately want Joe Dunne to succeed.
Naturally, if he does then we have a successful side to support, but also as a club legend nobody wants to see him fail, nobody wants him to have to be removed and nobody wants to hear him being lambasted from all quarters of the ground.
Dunne took over a sinking ship, without a league win all season and rooted in 22nd in the League One table. He has had to wait three months to get to January for the transfer window to re-open and has received rotten luck with his loan signings, with both Sanchez Watt and Craig Eastmond having their spells cut short through injury after making a huge impact on the side's fortunes.
The honeymoon period was enjoyable; we won five of the first six league games and, with ten minutes to go in the seventh we were cruising to a 2-0 victory at Shrewsbury, a result that would have cemented our place in the division's top half and left us just three points off of the top six.
You couldn't help but let your mind wander towards the Play-Off picture, albeit momentarily; we were scoring goals, we'd kept four clean sheets in five and the early season optimism had returned to the Weston Homes Community Stadium. But it's gone rapidly downhill from there.
Two goals conceded late on at Shrewsbury saw two points dropped, an embarrassing cup exit at the hands of local non-leaguers Chelmsford City and Dunne's first home defeat to Notts County followed. Another two-goal lead was thrown away at Crewe (with all three points dropped this time) and, a win over fellow strugglers Bury aside, seven further consecutive defeats bring us to today as we head into a very tough fixture at high-flying Doncaster tomorrow.
But what is it like to be the man charged with turning the side's fortunes around, particularly when the transfer window has been shut?
"This job consumes you," admits Dunne whilst speaking to BBC Essex. "It's all day, every day, and you're always looking at ways of improving and learning.
"We all make sacrifices and, at the moment, I'm generally away from my family life but you have to do that as a manager. You have to put the hours in, especially when it isn't going as well as you would want it to go."
The Irishman has had to work with what he's been given in the large part. This side was struggling badly under John Ward and, with two of Dunne's loanees returned to Arsenal he was, in effect, back to square one. It's no coincidence that the run coincided with the first of those departures, with Sanchez Watt limping off at Chelmsford.
There have been numerous changes to the team week-by-week, as well as the emergence of youth team talent who are being given the opportunity to turn things around, and full credit must go to Dunne for experimenting and being brave by giving these guys a chance.
"We're in a rut at the moment and as a manager you have to keep looking for solutions," he explained. "We've tried different players, we've tried different formations and you've just got to keep going. I'm a great believer that with hard work and effort it will come.
"You can try to change personnel but you've got to keep going with what you've got, but we know we can do it; in that good run we kept clean sheets and scored goals, now we have the flip side.
"The youngsters haven't let me down to be fair. We have a lot of experience in the side with the likes of Kem Izzet, Matt Heath, Marcus Bean and Magnus Okuonghae, so there is a lot of league games in there and the youngsters have been the spark in recent games that will let us get to where we need to get to.
"The youngsters give us energy, enthusiasm and play without fear."
In a situation like this, everyone holds their own opinions over what is going wrong and we all think we could be a football manager. So as the man given the responsibility of actually putting his beliefs into action, how does Dunne view the U's current predicament?
"Make no bones about it, we can do better," he stated. "I think that the effort and commitment is there but we need to add a little bit of quality.
"When we break down the bad run, it just comes down to individual mistakes and we're just making basic errors.
"We're having to work a lot harder than the opposition to get our goals."
The two most recent defeats against Brentford and Crawley have seen the U's give themselves an uphill battle from the off.
On Boxing Day, Brentford took a 1-0 lead after five minutes before, five minutes later, the U's found themselves down to ten men and with the deficit stretched to two goals.
A not too dissimilar story unfolded on New Year's Day, as Crawley also opened the scoring within the opening five minutes. This shouldn't stop the players believing they can win though, according to Dunne.
He explained: "We need stronger characters to get out of this than we've shown, because if you're defeatist then you'll be defeated and, if we're 1-0 down after two minutes, we need to believe we can get back into the game.
"I think our reaction against Brentford and Crawley was very good, and we're just missing that little bit of luck in front of goal.
"We can't hide away from this because if you're in it, then you're in it. We have to keep going and I'm sure we'll get results."
None of us would like anything more than for Dunne to succeed in turning this run around and, with a huge run of fixtures taking us into February, here's hoping that it is sooner rather than later.
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